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5th Wheel Living: Strengthening Family Bonds On The Open Road

  • 4 min read

This past Father’s Day, my family and I decided to leave everyone and everything we’ve known for the last few years, trade in our twenty-four-hundred square foot house and move into a thirty-four-foot fifth wheel.

Over the previous fourteen months, which we spent researching the fifth wheel lifestyle,  went back and forth with thoughts of “are we irresponsible if we do this?” or “are we irresponsible if wedon’t do this?” Of course, it would come up in conversation with our family and friends and was always met with “that sounds cool...” at best or “you guys are nuts if you do that!” at worst. We wondered whether it made sense to leave our friends, family, gym, routine and everything our kids have ever known for an open-ended adventure.

Almost two months into this endeavor, this has been the best decision of our lives.

Sixteen months ago, we were one-hundred-percent invested in the rat race. My wife had started a new job, our boy/girl twins were barely two and in daycare, and I traveled often for work. I left the military after twelve years of service to start a family and found myself on the road way more than I wanted to be as a new dad. I didn’t want to miss the big moments or watch life events of my kids on my iPhone and the prospect of continuing that lifestyle for the next twenty, thirty or forty years sounded like a life sentence of minimal time with my family.

I wanted to live life with them, to experience life with my wife and kids as much as I could. Knowing that actions speak louder than words, we decided it was time for action. We began our research by following different full-time RV families on YouTube, Instagram and other outlets to see if this was something we really wanted to pursue. The resounding theme was it was hard at times but often more than worth it.  

We had an idea of what we were looking for at the outset. We needed something that had doors to establish boundaries, personal space (almost an oxymoron in a trailer), an office for me and a place to retreat to after a long day.

We started visiting RV dealerships where the salesperson would always ask, “so you guys plan on taking this out for a few weekends a year?”  

We would often receive a grimacing face when we responded that it would be for full-time living.

Settling on a two-bedroom, one bathroom, with a living room/kitchen, we learned that we don’t need all the extra space of a large house and we don’t need all the extra stuff that fills a house. We learned very quickly that we only need each other and the memories we’re making together.  

Living the nomadic lifestyle of full-time fifth-wheelers has helped us really focus on the things that matter. To us, it’s sitting down every night for dinner, recounting the activities of the day and being together.

Of course, some days are more exciting than others. Some days we drive six hours with two three-year-olds and an old dog, which means a lot of pee breaks and stops to stretch the legs. Some days find us in a new city and we’re able to explore things together as a family.

Thanks to my time in the military and the adage “one is none, two is one,” I tend to be a bit of a gear hoarder. I learned that I might be doing it wrong during my first few climbing trips when I would show up with so much gear and not touch half of it. But in my head, I always needed it just in case. After a few trips, I learned to slim my gear list down substantially to mimic the loadouts of my pro climber friends. Living in a thirty-four-foot camper requires the same approach, making me quickly realize that I don’t need all the stuff that I thought for those just in case moments. Rather, I only need a few pairs of pants, shirts, hiking shoes, backpack and flip-flops.  

Our almost minimalist approach to this lifestyle has been rubbing off on our kids as well, as they have learned at the young age of three how they don’t need a million toys or gadgets. And I, in turn, have learned as a father that they never needed that stuff, they just want our attention and focus.

By getting rid of so many distractions, my brain and shoulders feel a lot lighter. My attention span to my wife and kids has increased because I’m not coming home from work and maintaining a large house.  

These days, I come home from work (which means walking out of my bedroom to the rest of the camper) and we go for walks, play mini golf, hike, swim in lakes, do arts and crafts, ride bikes, and so much more. Everything we do, we do together, allowing me to experience my wife and kids firsthand, not through saved memories on a smartphone.

We knew that working out and the lack of space for equipment would be a challenge for us. But like everything else, we’ve adapted to that as well. We have a TRX that we hang from the ladder on the rear of the camper, a set of Powerblock dumbbells (ranging from ten to fifty pounds), a jump rope, resistance bands and the limitlessness of our imagination.  We use the Pelican case that our fitness gear lives in as a bench for step-ups, bench press and a variety of other exercises.

Maybe it’s due to our being in a small space or that we often find ourselves in new places that we’ve never visited, but we are far more active in our tiny house on wheels than we ever were in our large bricks and sticks home.  

So if you’re thinking about taking a chance, do it. Remember that you only get one shot at this. Make the memories, take the chances and get out of your comfort zone. I can say that we have truly embraced the Die Living Lifestyle, living every day like it’s our last.

Pete Perry is a family man, avid adventurer, and former Marine Raider. Pete spends his free time hiking, climbing, exploring, and traveling with his wife and twins.